The British automaker that would become Jaguar took a bold step in 1935 with the introduction of its first sports car, the SS-90 prototype. The luscious roadster with its gleaming chrome grille, sweeping fenders and distinctively sloping rear deck, was greeted with excitement by the motoring press and public.
The SS-90 set the stage for all Jaguar sports cars to come, as well as launching the marque’s legendary reign in motorsports – the prototype served as the factory’s first competition car.
That first SS-90 prototype, now restored to superb original condition, will be a star entry in the 2023 Arizona Concours d’Elegance, which takes place Sunday, January 22, at its new location at the Scottsdale Civic Center.
More than 80 exceptional automobiles ranging from early runabouts and pre-war classics to notable sports cars and modern exotics will compete in the Concours for awards and spectator admiration. The show, formerly held at the Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix, will be presented on the grass at the freshly renovated Scottsdale venue, where it is expected to take its place as a signature event for the upscale Arizona city.
The Arizona Concours is being organized in partnership with Scottsdale Arts, a non-profit interdisciplinary arts organization; all proceeds will benefit local arts organizations. The theme for the 2023 Concours is the Art of Aerodynamics.
The SS-90 prototype, arguably the most historic of all pre-war Jaguar models (the SS car company, originally Swallow Sidecars, changed its name to Jaguar later on because of the SS initials’ Nazi connotation), is owned by Terry and Darlene Larson of Mesa, Arizona.
Terry Larson is a famed Jaguar restorer, collector and historian, and he completed restoration of the SS-90 in 1998 for a Swiss collector, who went on to amass international awards for the car. Larson was able to obtain the SS-90 and bring it back to Mesa in 2019.
The roadster has a colorful early history, purchased from the factory in 1937 by Royal Air Force Wing Commander Hugh Kennard, a decorated fighter pilot who flew the first Spitfire for the RAF. Kennard would drive the prototype regularly, including parking at the airfield when he went on missions, such as taking part in the heroic Battle of Britain. He was shot down over the English Channel but survived.
Kennard is shown with the SS-90 in a number of photos from the period, and some that show the shapely sports car posed with the Spitfire that he flew.
Kennard sold the SS-90 in 1944, and it went through a number of owners during the 1950s, when it changed hands cheaply as a used car. In 1962, an enthusiast purchased it with the intention of restoration, but it sat essentially untouched for 30 years in a garage in Norfolk, England. It was bought in 1996 by the Swiss collector, a noted Jaguar enthusiast, who then shipped it to Larson for its restoration.
Although 22 more SS-90s were eventually produced, the prototype is unique for its dramatic rear styling. Behind the cockpit, the sculpted body slopes down between the fenders with a large spare tire inset at the center affixed with leather straps.
While the rear styling was beautifully rendered, it was considered to be impractical for private owners and too expensive for the factory to produce in series. Subsequent SS-90s and the following SS-100 models had more-traditional upright fuel tanks and space for folding fabric tops.
Arizona Concours spectators are invited to examine the SS-90 close up while it’s on display and competing in the class for Aerodynamic Pre-War Sports and Race Cars.
For information about tickets, vehicle entries and sponsorships, visit ArizonaConcours.com or scottsdaleperformingarts.org/event/arizona-concours-delegance.
(Period photos courtesy of Terry Larson)